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LOWRY: Understanding traumatic brain injury

By any measure, the brain is one of the most complex organs in the human body.

This epicenter of logic, emotion, language, and motion features approximately 100 billion neurons, working in harmony. The average adult brain weighs only three pounds, but it coordinates a wide range of voluntary and involuntary actions throughout the entire body.

The brain is naturally protected by the bony plates of the skull, but this organ still remains vulnerable to trauma due to sports-related injuries, car collisions, falls, physical assault or other injuries. In fact, traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a major cause of death and disability in the United States, contributing to about 30 percent of all injury deaths. In 2010, 2.5 million emergency room visits and hospitalizations were associated with TBI, contributing to 50,000 deaths.

Traumatic brain injury can be caused by a blow, jolt or bump to the head that disrupts the normal function of the brain. These injuries can range from mild to severe. A mild brain injury is commonly referred to as a concussion and is usually anything but mild to the person suffering. More severe injuries can result in extended periods of memory loss, unconsciousness and disability. Approximately 5.3 million Americans are currently living with a TBI-related disability.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one third of all traumatic brain injury-related deaths are caused by motor vehicle crashes and traffic-related incidents. It is important to seek medical attention immediately whenever symptoms of TBI are apparent because it is impossible to determine the extent of a traumatic brain injury without medical testing.

The NFL’s recent $1 billion settlement with former professional football players has brought national attention to traumatic brain injury, highlighting the degenerative long-term effects of experiencing multiple concussions. Years ago, football players and other athletes were encouraged to “shake it off” after experiencing a head injury and to get back in the game. Now, medical professionals understand the importance of paying attention to the signs of traumatic brain injury.

The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that other symptoms of mild TBI include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue, lethargy, changes in sleep patterns, mood swings, memory problems and concentration challenges. A person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms, but may also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions, seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination and increased confusion, restlessness or agitation. A brain injury can also affect emotional function, causing changes in personality and contributing to clinical depression.

Brain injuries can occur as a result of injuries sustained on a recreational soccer field or in a collision on the interstate. Either way, it is important to seek medical help when an individual exhibits symptoms that may indicate a concussion or a more serious injury.

 

Stephen G. Lowry is a partner with the law firm of Harris Penn Lowry LLP who has handled numerous personal injury claims, including traumatic brain injury cases. He can be reached at steve@hpllegal.com, 912-651-9967 or www.hpllegal.com. 

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